Roundup July 2022 [UPDATED August 2022]: Media, Reading, and Misinformation

The media have a long and muddled fascination with children and students reading, especially declaring that we are experiencing a reading crisis. However, even more concerning that this misguided click-bait approach to journalism is that the media more often than not promote crisis rhetoric with misinformation.

I. Education Week

Possibly the most (un)impressive example of this is from Education Week. In just the last few weeks, EdWeek has posted a catalogue of misinformation about their favorite topic—the science of reading:

Here are a few reminders about the nonsense and misinformation that EdWeek will not set aside:

II. Newsweek

Next is a nonsense article, more misinformation, from Newsweek: Education Expert: A Love to ‘Read by Three’ Is the Answer to Success.

Consider instead this response from Stephen Krashen:

This is a response to Bethlam Forsa, “A Love to ‘Read by Three’ Is The Answer to Success.” (https://www.newsweek.com/education-expert-love-read-three-answer-success-1727222).

Published in the Newsweek Expert Forum, an “invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives and entrepreneurs.” (This response was not invited.) Forsa cannot be reached by email or telephone. She is the president of Savvas, formerly Pearson K12.

It is widely believed that failure at grade 3 predicts school failure later on in school (Forsa, “A love to read by three,” 7/25/22).

If true, we should study what factors predict success by the end of grade 3.

In Lao, Lee, McQuillan and Krashen (2021), we summarized the results of three studies of ten -year old children on a test of reading comprehension, the PIRLS test, 10 year olds in 45 countries in 2006, in 57 countries in 2011 and in 61 countries in 2016. 

The number of children tested ranged from 3349 to 18,245 and was administered in the national language of the country.

In agreement with Forsa’s recommendation, the best predictor was access to reading material, represented here as the presence of a school library). High levels of poverty meant lower levels of reading competence, as did the amount of reading instruction in school and whether children had developed some reading competence before starting school. 

The clear winner: access to books. There was the most popular recommendation among the public, direct instruction in reading, was not a strong predictor. There is plenty of support for this predictor from other studies, see especially the work of Keith Curry Lance. https://keithcurrylance.com and S. Krashen (2004).

Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Lao, C., Lee, S-Y., McQuillan, J., and Krashen, S. 2021. Predicting reading ability among ten-year olds: Poverty (negative), school libraries (positive), instruction (zero), early literacy (zero). Language Magazine 20,10: 20-21. https://tinyurl.com/cn3nekc4

See also the following:

III. The New York Times

The NYT certainly is running a close second to EdWeek for misinformation (see here and here). But the newest NYT article is even worse than misinformation because it is really bad (and not surprising) news: New Reading Curriculum Is Mired in Debate Over Race and Gender.

It is important to connect the dots and recall that states have banned reading programs, as reported here:

The Arkansas Division of Secondary and Elementary Education announced in October 2019 that any curriculum that utilizes cueing strategies won’t be approved for use in the state, meaning that Calkins’ materials and another popular program, Fountas and Pinnell Classroom, are effectively banned. Colorado released a list of approved core reading curriculum, and Calkins’ programs weren’t on the list. A group outside St. Louis sent a letter signed by 216 parents, students and taxpayers to the school board asking that Calkins, and Fountas and Pinnell be dropped. The Oakland Unified School District, whose use of Calkins’ products was highlighted in the 2019 APM Reports story, announced it was forming a committee to consider adopting new curriculum. And Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit consulting group, published a review that concluded Calkins’ curriculum materials are “unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public schoolchildren.” 

Influential literacy expert Lucy Calkins is changing her views

Republican legislation has begun to erode academic freedom among previously respected academic publishers, such as Heinemann. The combination of politics and the market is bad news for teachers, bad news for education, and bad news for students.

IV. Time [UPDATED]

Time has joined the mainstream media misinformation parade with Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read.

The expansive piece follows a now old and tired pattern of misrepresenting nearly everything about reading and teaching reading. In fact, the article almost comically fails the fact checking guidelines I developed years ago.

The post opens with a garbled defense of the reading program Open Court, blaming (of course) teachers for abandoning the program (and characterizing those teachers as driven by wokeness, not concern for students). Here is what is left out: Open Court was at the center of the Reading First scandal, and careful reviews of the program have shown that it simply does not meet the exact standards the science of reading movement calls for. (See McQuillan’s review and the review at phonics-friendly EdReports.)

Misinformation by omission.

Luscombe offers yet another, and somewhat breezy, inaccurate portrayal of whole language:

There are many schools of thought on how best to aid this process, but the main contretemps has been about whether kids need to be taught how to sound out words explicitly or whether, if you give them enough examples and time, they’ll figure out the patterns. The latter theory, sometimes known as whole language, says teaching phonics is boring and repetitive, and a large percentage of English words diverge from the rules. (Hello there, though, thought, through, trough and tough!) But if you immerse children in beautiful stories, they’ll be motivated to crack the code, to recognize each word. The counterargument is that reading is as connected to hearing as it is to sight. It begins, phonics advocates say, with speech. This understanding, and the data that supports it, has become known as the science of reading.

Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

The goal is to frame whole language (and balanced literacy; see later in the article) as nothing more than a whim and elevate the real “science of reading.” See here for a full and accurate understanding of whole language, and here and here for balanced literacy.

Of course misinformation articles on reading must cite and greatly misrepresent the National Reading Panel (NRP). Once again, the NRP reports were deeply flawed since the panel was underfunded and understaffed; the panel also lacked any teachers and limited their review of research to narrow quantitative studies. See a fuller examination of NRP here.

The piece builds as expected to focusing on dyslexia and making a pretty huge (and inaccurate) claim:

Just as most children, no matter how many times they’ve been in a car, still need to be taught to drive, most readers benefit from being explicitly taught how sounds and letters go together. This is true not just for dyslexics (who represent about 10% of all learners) but for the majority of readers.

Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

One of the worst aspects of the “science of reading” movement and the state legislation it has prompted is that all students are being treated as if they are dyslexic, or struggling. Not only are the movement and parent advocate misrepresenting the research on dyslexia, they are pathologizing all reading. See here and here for a more nuanced and complex understanding of dyslexia and addressing struggling readers.

And no misinformation piece on reading is complete now with the “Mississippi Miracle” propaganda. To be brief, there is no credible research showing Mississippi improved NAEP scores by using the “science of reading”; in fact, it is likely the score bumps come from excessive grade retention. See a full analysis of Mississippi’s NAEP scores here.

Part of the Mississippi and “science of reading” propaganda relies on general readers simply accepting that everything being endorsed is, well, “scientific”; however, once again, the article champions the power of LETRS, a program to train teachers in phonics and reading instruction. Another example of misinformation by omission since:

A growing number of U.S. states have funded and encourage and/or require teachers to attend professional development using Moats’s commercial LETRS program, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas. This is despite the fact that an Institute of Education Sciences study of the LETRS intervention found almost no effects on teachers or student achievement (Garet et al., 2008). (p. S259)

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255-S266. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.353

The article ends by praising Emily Hanford and trashing teacher education—the former has no credibility and the latter is simply more misinformation. See just one example on Hanford here, and here for teacher education.

Just like cries of reading “crisis,” the Time article offers nothing new by traveling down a well-worn path of misinformation that now seems the only direction mainstream media can see.


The great irony facing us now is that the very worst place to read about reading is mainstream media—unless you are prepared to do the hard work journalists are not doing and interrogate the tired and relentless misinformation at the center of all the misguided crisis rhetoric around reading.


Recommended

Making sense of reading’s forever wars, Leah Durán and Michiko Hikida